Just a month ago, we were all reading the news and wondering how serious the coronavirus outbreak halfway across the world was going to be. Then, after it spread across the globe, we started adapting to the new reality of working from home and social distancing. That change has certainly been felt in the advertising and marketing sectors, where businesses scrambled to react.

Now, as we settle in to the new normal, businesses have increasingly resumed their marketing campaigns. But the question of messaging has gotten trickier than ever. Should you lean-in hard on coronavirus in this all-news, all-the-time environment? Should you ignore it all together and risk seeming out of touch? As always, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

We sat down (virtually, of course) with Andrew Whalen, senior manager of CoxNext’s Creative Services department, for his take on the current environment and the best messaging strategies for our clients.

Last month, it seemed like everybody was either saying, “Pull all of our advertising now!” or they were just carrying on as though nothing had happened. Five weeks in, neither of those seem like viable options. We’re seeing a lot of coronavirus-specific advertising right now. What sort of messages are you seeing at the moment?

AW: A lot of advertisers are out there saying “We’re all in this together.” It’s weird to go from “We’ve got a product, we want you to buy it, click here” to “We’re your friend.” It’s a complete shift to more of a branding message. Everyone’s trying to be super sensitive, but it’s the same message over and over and you’ve got to be careful that it doesn’t get drowned out with so much similar messaging.

How can advertisers offer something more than moral support – being cognizant of the crisis, but still pushing real goods & services?

AW: I think that’s the better route, saying, “Yeah, we’re here for you now. But this is what we’re offering.” We’ve been doing some health care messaging that focuses on telemedicine, for example. They’re acknowledging the coronavirus, but still offering a real service.

Another client does stone and concrete laying. They’re not mentioning the virus directly at all to consumers, but they’re talking about taking advantage of family time, about home being an oasis. That resonates with people who are stuck at home, without ever saying the word “coronavirus.” In their B2B messaging, on the other hand, they’re definitely letting contractors know that they’re “there for them.”

Are there cases in which an all-in coronavirus message makes sense?

AW: We’ve got a hospital that’s been running ads for their handwashing podcast. That’s driving a lot of traffic to their site and is a great branding opportunity for them. Another client is in the food services industry and they’ve basically shifted to being an employment agency, reaching out to people who are now unemployed – servers, bartenders – and working to place them in food-delivery and other positions that are suddenly in high-demand.

Another great example is a company that makes high-performance, compression-type socks. They’ve started a campaign asking people to buy a pair that they’ll deliver to a frontline health care worker.